Was this the biggest Barramundi landed in 2007?
Darwins Barra Base clients landed this 140cm Barramundi at Shady Camp and we haven't seen any bigger fish.
Bite of the century
It sounded like a shotgun.
A helpless mullet fell victim to a big barra's powerful and lightning fast jaws. In a scene more reminiscent of fast paced pelagic action, giant barra, some of epic proportions, tore savagely into tight packed schools of baitfish.
It wasn't by chance that our time on the water coincided with one of the hottest barra bites in recent years. Bret and Chelle from Victoria's Billfisher Tackle, along with top NT guide Mark Parkinson from Darwin's Barra Base
, set the dates well in advance after some careful planning. I later got the invite to tag along and after hearing recent reports, couldn't pack my bags fast enough.
The first day, merely a warm up, was spent casting Storm plastics around the flooded plains throughout the Mary River system. Straight retrieves were the order of the day. Casting up against the current and retrieving with little or no action imparted on the plastic worked wonders. That brilliant little wriggle inherent in the Storm's action was all that was needed to entice the hungry salties. A few small fish were accounted for, but none of those metre plus brutes we'd been expecting.
Gear consisted of heavy baitcaster outfits loaded with 60lb braid. Brett and Chelle arrived with an arsenal of quality Daiwa gear. And over the next few days the need for heavy ,top-notch tackle presented itself as one of the essential ingredients to landing those chrome sided salties.
Back at Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge that night, safely away from the hordes of biting insects loitering outside, we sat over a beer and discussed the prospects for day two. Aware of prying ears, Mark quietly suggested we leave early in the morning and travel some distance from Shady Camp to a little known creek further along the coast. It's worth mentioning that few guides work harder to get their clients onto fish than Mark. He's also the biggest consumer of iced coffee in Northern Australia - seriously - freeboard was at a minimum with the volume of iced coffee stashed inside his boat.
| The next morning, under the cover of darkness, we snuck quietly away from the lodge. The sun was rising, painting the landscape a beautiful shade of red as the big punt entered the water. Crocodiles scurried out of the way and tackle was readied as we neared the creek. Crossing the bar at the mouth was no easy affair - shallow water made navigation tricky. The sound of wind whistling past our ears was soon replaced with silence as we floated motionless on the coffee-coloured water- the silence only broken by the occasional barra smashing baitfish in the shallows. It was now a waiting game. The tide, almost at it's peak, was holding a myriad of baitfish in the safety of the shallow floodplains.
The run-off period is hot- really hot. And the insects - those annoying little bugs are everywhere. They don't seem to bother the locals though - most carrying skin like buffalo hide - a symptom of too many years spent baking in the hot Territory sun. The air here was sticky beyond belief, the line of mangroves blocking all but the tiniest breeze needed to escape the muggy conditions.
The water stopped flowing, movement was at a minimum and anticipation filled the sticky air. Like clockwork the bait began to move. First it was a few pop-eye mullet skipping along the surface kamikaze style - most never made it. These poor little fish live their lives for only one purpose: to fill the stomach of hungry saltwater barra. And that's how things panned out for the next hour. Barra, most over a metre , smashed mullet all around us. We were successful in landing these chrome sided giants? Not quite. I missed a couple of golden opportunities when more than one fish nabbed my green Bomber lure as it worked its way over the drop off near the boat.
Brett and Chelle persuaded Mark to pick up the 60 lb Daiwa Saltiga and have a shot at beating his personal best barra. Mark's experience at working a Bomber showed, as after only a few casts, a serious barra connected. Mark catapulted from the back of the boat to the front as the fish, easily over 60 lbs, tore line rapidly from the ultra overhead tackle. Needless to say, this fish never saw the light of day, prefering to tangle the heavy braid firmly around a flooded mangrove. Back to work and it wasn't long before the 60lb Saltiga outfit went off again - this fish was a true monster, snapping the braid like dental floss and burying the line deep into the spool. We left the creek that day shaken, and determined that we'd return the next day to inflict revenge on the fish who'd laughed at our pathetic attempt.
Day number three was the biggest tide of the year and perfect for this creek. If everything went according to plan, the change of tide would see the barra lining up like a bunch of eager post-Christmas shoppers.
The morning started as a repeat of the previous day, although this time we had more company. Word got out and this time it was a high speed race for prime position in the creek. Again tied to the same tree, we waited , casting in anticipation of what lay ahead.
With the tide nearing eight metres it began to turn. We continued casting, constantly staring upstream, waiting for the first signs of bait to begin it's suicidal mission downstream. The previous day saw bait moving in small patches mostly from the protection of the mangroves. This day was different - like a flood the bait flowed downstream, thousands of them.
| The barra started their attack just upstream of our position. When the tide of baitfish finally swam past our boat, the big salties were waiting.Metre plus gorged themselves: there wasn't a small barra to be seen.
Chelle was the first to hook up, landing a decent barra well over a metre - soon after she repeated the effort.
The rest of us kept on casting, hoping one of these monoliths would mistake the green Bomber for a lone, petrified mullet. With fierce determination, Bret stood on the back of the boat, firing off cast after cast retrieving against the strong current. His lure stopped . Like a bullet, the fish now attached to Brett's lure made a beeline for the open water , racing past all the other boats and ending up very close to a line of mangroves. Brett literally slid from one end of the boat to the pother along the gunwales in his bold attempt to put the brakes on the rampaging saltie. The boat was untied and we followed the fish before Brett managed to get the upper hand. Sighs of disbelief sounded as the barra's head entered the net. Half of the fish sat securely in the net, the other half unable to fit was hauled aboard by Brett's free hand. Brett collapsed to the floor grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat. A few photos later and the big old girl was gently returned to the water where it happily swam away.
| How big was it? 140cm and bottomed out the 60lb Bogagrips (weighed in the net) with it's tail still firmly on the ground. At almost 70lbs, this was one big fish - a capture like this wasn't likely to be repeated anytime soon. Mark expressed his disbelief: he hadn't seen a fish of that calibre for about a decade.
The crew started hassling me for not hitting that magic one metre mark - plenty of missed opportunities, but no metre long fish to my name. We had one more chance, the next day, before the tide and increasing boat activity would shut down this magical creek for another time. Tomorrow came and Chelle, once again showing us that women are beter fishos than men, landed a couple more decent sized fish. And finally so did I, not quite a metre, but very close and good fun on the undergunned tackle I possessed. Fishing the Run-off
| The run-off usually extends between March and May. My trip was in April, which for the Mary River system was literally the last week of run-off. Other systems were still well and truly in flood at the time.
It varies from year to year, so it's best that you speak to your guide for the best time to visit. Darwin's Barra Base can be contacted on (08) 89450376 or by visiting the website.
As well as operating the guide service, proprietor Allan Beale and his wife Heather provide a bed and breakfast close to Darwin airport, a good place to stay the night before your fishing trip.
What to bring? Once again, before you dish out your hard earned money on a barra outfit, talk to your guide who should be able to recommend a suitable setup. Nobody knows quality barra tackle better than Brett and Chelle and they can be contacted at Billfisher Tackle on (03) 97839774. I can't emphasise enough the need for quality tackle. Big run-off salties are cheap fishing tackle's toughest critic - they just laugh at inferior gear. Fifty pound baitcaster outfits were the norm, but even these were sometimes worthless in the face of a big rampaging saltie.
When it comes to lures, the ubiquitous Bomber reins supreme. Olive and chartreuse were the colours of choice on this trip. The best size was the Long A. Other lures worth adding to the Top End tackle box included the Classic Barra and Halco's Scorpian 125. And as mentioned above, don't leave home without a few Storm Wild Eye Shad plastics in Blue gill colours.
Barramundi have a reputation, not just in Australia but also around the world, for being one of the greatest sportfish that swims. Big fish like we saw on this trip have a tendency to leave an imprint on the mind of anyone lucky enough to see them in their natural habitat. For that reason they deserve protection, what a waste to see these wild fish served up on plates for exuberant prices in big city restaurants. There's little doubt they're worth infinitely more alive than dead, even as we caught and carefully released such fish, pro fishermen were working nearby, hoping to make a quick buck from harvesting one of the Territory's greatest assets.
Putting aside the man-eating crocs, man-eating insects, and the scorching weather - the Top End truly is the home of the biggest barramundi.
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